By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said his Bible is old, beat up and worth more to him than anything money can buy.
"If you saw my Bible, you would not be impressed," he wrote to young people. "You'd say, 'What? This is the pope's Bible? A book so old, so beat up?'
You might even want to give me a gift of a new one, something that costs 1,000 euro. But I don't want it."
Pope Francis wrote about his Bible and his Bible-reading habits in the preface to the German-language study guide, "Youth Bible for the Catholic Church."
It was released in late October by the Germany-based Katholisches Bibelwerk and the YouCat Foundation. Other language versions are expected in 2016.
The Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, published an Italian translation of the preface in early December.
The well-worn Bible has been with Pope Francis for half his life, wrote the pope, who will turn 79 Dec. 17.
"It has seen my joy and has been bathed by my tears: it is my priceless treasure," the pope wrote, and "nothing in the world would make me give it up."
Youths and young adults in Germany and Austria worked with three Catholic biblical scholars to compile the new introduction to reading and understanding the Bible. The illustrated guide, designed for teens and young adults, contains selections from every book of the Bible with an introductory note, as well as commentary on the chosen passages, reflections by the young people and related citations from saints and popes.
In the preface, Pope Francis urges young people to use the study guide and to read their Bibles daily. He asks them not to hide it on a bookshelf where it will gather dust "until one day your own children sell it at a used book stall. No! Don't let that happen."
The Bible is not just a piece of literature, he said. There are Christians in the world today being persecuted just for having a Bible; "evidently, the Bible is an extremely dangerous book."
The pope quoted Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, who said, "You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature."
God speaks through the Bible, the pope wrote. It is not a book designed for the shelves, but for the hands.
Pope Francis asked young people to read from the Bible each day and with attention.
"Ask 'What does this say to my heart? What is God saying to me through these words?'" the pope counseled.
"I want to tell you how I read my old Bible. Often I pick it up, read a bit, then set it down and let myself be seen by the Lord. I am not the one looking at him, but he looks at me. God is truly there, present."
Pope Francis reassured the young people that it is not uncommon at all to feel like God is not saying anything. "But, patiently, I stay there and I wait, reading and praying."
"I pray seated," he said, "because it hurts when I kneel. Sometimes when I'm praying I even fall asleep, but that's OK because I'm like a son near his father and that's what counts."
"Do you want to make me happy?" the pope asked the youths. "Then read the Bible."